How long does it take to catapult from Hmm, could it be? to Wow, can you believe it? In Hollywood, just one night. After weeks of cat-and-mouse sightings, Demi Moore and hunk-of-the-moment Ashton Kutcher got down to serious business the night of May 31, when Hollywood’s attention was trained on the MTV Movie Awards at the Shrine Auditorium. First, Kutcher emerged from the theater to escort the later-arriving Moore in, then hustled her backstage, where they kissed and Kutchey-cooed in front of oglers. “They flirted with each other all night,” says an observer. “It looked like they were in that giddy phase, when you start to fall for someone.” After the show the two hooked up again at Sean “Diddy” Combs’s Gatsby-themed party at grocery store magnate Ron Burkle’s Benedict Canyon estate. There Moore, 40, and Kutcher, 25, “were all over each other,” says one witness. Another reveler says the couple publicly displayed their affection at “J. Lo and Ben levels,” at one point emerging disheveled from a quiet hallway. “They were the talk of the party.”
And now the whole darn town—proving again that, contrary to her name, Demi does nothing halfway. After quitting Hollywood for Hailey, Idaho, in 1998 following box office flops and the breakup of her marriage to Bruce Willis, Moore turned full-time to raising daughters Rumer, now 14, Scout, 11, and Tallulah, 9. When Drew Barrymore tried to coax Moore out of retirement to join the cast of Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, “she was very hesitant,” Barrymore told PEOPLE last December. Now, with Moore’s comeback turn set to premiere June 27, she has come roaring back into the limelight with a determination that has snapped Hollywood to attention. “Whenever you have energy going on in your personal life and you can translate that onto the screen,” says Angels director McG, “that’s a good thing.”
These days, the Red Bull-drinking Moore seems to have energy to spare, joining Kutcher in a cross-country whirlwind romance. She and Kutcher—star of FOX’s sitcom That ’70s Show and MTV’s candid-camera hit Punk’d—first turned up on April 30 at Manhattan’s tony Le Bilboquet restaurant, then continued on to the Dorsia nightclub, where “they were kind of grinding together at a banquette” to the hip-hop music, says the club’s manager, Stephan Seguin.
On May 17 they took their act west, drawing the curtains on a private dining room at L.A.’s Dolce Enoteca, in which Kutcher is an investor. A friend of Kutcher’s who was there that night recalls that Moore showed up in skintight jeans and “looked like an 18-year-old. She looked really happy.” The following week the couple headed to Miami, checking into the Presidential suite of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, discreetly making their entrances and exits through a back door, according to a hotel source. On May 22 they dined at Macaluso’s with Combs and his once ex, now current girlfriend Kim Porter. After dinner—featuring grilled chicken and Sinatra tunes—Kutcher and Moore gave each other a kiss on their way out of the restaurant. The next day the foursome boarded a chartered yacht and cruised from sight, heading toward the Bahamas.
On May 31, when they lunched together with Combs at the Ivy in Los Angeles, they made a feeble stab at discretion, exiting through separate doors. That evening, however, as they flirted and kissed during the MTV Movie Awards, then got physical at Diddy‘s afterparty, “they came out of the closet,” says an onlooker. “They were right out in the open.” They were just as unabashed the next day, sitting poolside at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where Moore was overheard calling Kutcher “honey” as they giggled, cuddled and held hands. At the hotel, they ran into—of all people—Dr. Ruth Westheimer. “From the look on their faces,” recalls the noted sex therapist, “they don’t need me.”
So is it the real thing? This being Hollywood, some think there’s less than meets the eye. An acquaintance of Kutcher’s—sounding hurt by Kutcher’s coziness with his new high-powered pals—suggests the romance “might be part of Ashton’s plan to move up from the B-list to the A-list.” Kutcher is scoring big with MTV’s Punk’d, in which he embarrasses his celeb pals with outrageous pranks. He and his chum-around-town Combs, whom he met in February at the NBA All-Star Game, are working overtime to drum up interest in what they call Rat Pack 2003. Combs is Frank; Kutcher is “Dino, baby.” Asked at an MTV Awards preparty if a Rat Pack member is dating Moore, Kutcher shook his head and sighed, “Aw, man, you can’t ask that. That goes against everything that [Rat Pack 2003] is about.” Other pals aren’t as taciturn. “His friends all say, ‘She’s hot,’ and they would date her too if they could,” says one buddy. “But I think it’s more appropriate for Ashton to be dating Demi’s oldest daughter.”
Indeed, Moore has no trouble catching the eyes of younger men. After her divorce from Willis, she had a three-year relationship with karate instructor Oliver Whitcomb, seven years her junior. Since her 40th birthday last November she has had reported encounters with Tobey Maguire and Colin Farrell (see box, p. 114). Moore has also raised her profile with a savvy selection of appearances. In February she emerged from her self-imposed exile with a guest turn on one of her favorite shows, NBC’s Will & Grace, which debuted the toned, sleek physique she has substituted for the more muscular look of her G.I. Jane days. And she’s been turning up at top-flight fetes aplenty, from the Broadway premiere of Salome to Lara Flynn Boyle’s April birthday party in L.A. to the May 7 L.A. premiere of The Matrix Reloaded. That night, she walked the red carpet with Angels costar Lucy Liu. The two actresses “have become really good buddies,” says McG. “They share a love of Eastern philosophy.”
Despite her glitz blitz, Moore’s life remains rooted in Idaho with her family—and that includes her ex-husband. In 2001 Willis, 48, purchased the 7,300-sq.-ft. house directly across the street from the $2.8 million six-bedroom spread Moore shares with her three daughters in Hailey. Willis and Moore “seem to work out their schedules pretty well so one of them is around,” says a family friend. Willis is also boosting her comeback by making a cameo appearance in Angels. In the afternoon of May 30—shortly before Moore headed to L.A. for a weekend of romance with Kutcher—she was back in Hailey with her kids. Squeezing into a child-size chair at her daughter’s school, she watched Tallulah gyrate to “Burning Love” along with her third-grade class. “Louder!” Moore yelled between cupped hands. During Tallulah’s solo, Moore mouthed along as her daughter lip-synched to “I Will Survive.”
It’s no surprise she knows the words. The next night at the MTV Awards, Moore was greeted with such a loud chorus of hoots and hollers from male audience members that she could barely get through her presentation. “There is such a short list of people who the camera loves and can act,” says Jerry Zucker, who directed Moore in 1990’s Ghost. “Demi has that thing—and she should be out there doing it.”
Lorenzo Benet, Marisa Laudadio and Alison Singh Gee in Los Angeles, Kwala Mandel in Ketchum, Liza Hamm and Liz McNeil in New York City and Linda Marx and Suzanne Buckley in Miami